Crowded jails

October 2, 2017

DEMAND AND SUPPLY by Boo Chanco

The Philippine Star | October 2, 2017

 

Last week, we focused on cases of government departments unable to spend or even obligate their budgets. That gave the impression we have too much money, or we have a bureaucracy simply clueless on how to spend their allocations. 

I bumped into Sen. Ralph Recto last Thursday and we talked about the problem of budget utilization. He mentioned the problem of building much needed schoolhouses in the light of the 70 percent unobligated budget left for the purpose this year.

There are other needs crying out for funds, but he wondered if the implementing agencies have plans on how to properly use those funds. A good example is our crowded prisons.

According to Sen. Recto, the budget to feed about 150,000 inmates in 446 Bureau of Jail Management and Penology-run jails in the country is going to run out by the middle of this month. The anti drug war has inflated the number of detainees, but there are also many inmates who are being kept beyond the maximum penalty provided for the offenses they are accused of.

I asked practicing lawyers why this is happening. The common response is that the lawyers from the Public Attorneys Office are swamped with cases. It is the responsibility of the PAO lawyers to keep tabs on such cases and file the necessary manifestation with the court for the release of prisoners who have overstayed his or her potential maximum sentence.

That is a grave social injustice and a serious violation of human rights. This gruesome reality is present in our city jails.  But that’s experienced only if the accused is dirt poor. If wealthy, highly paid lawyers make sure the accused do not spend a minute in jail.

 

According to Sen. Recto, he was told by the BJMP that our jail congestion rate is an unbelievable 600 percent. Many jails in highly urbanized areas exceed that.

“The total national cell space of 97,789 square meters is ideal for 20,793 inmates… Sa report ng BJMP, mayroong mga jails na 3,590 percent, 2,603 percent, 2,494 percent congestion rate…”

Recto said the BJMP inmate population has doubled since 2013. And now, their meager food budget is about to run out. An inmate’s daily food budget is set at P60. “Ito ay pagkakasyahin sa tatlong kainan.”

 Recto said BJMP’s food allowance budget of P2.32 billion this year was based on an inmate population of 106,280, but the number of inmates has already soared to 142,282 by June 30. It is projected to breach the 150,000 mark by the end of this month.

According to Recto, it now cost taxpayers P81,732 to feed, house and guard one BJMP inmate annually. That’s why it makes sense to set free those who have served more than the prescribed prison term if they are convicted. Also, the sick and the elderly ought to be set free under our parole system.

Attention must also be given to funding the judicial system. Congress must give what Recto calls “extra judicial funding” to modernize courts and enable public attorneys and prosecutors to reduce case backlogs.

A faster disposition of cases will relieve congested jails, which have also become finishing schools for criminals and marketing networks for the illegal drug trade. But prosecutors, judges and public attorneys are overworked.

“One prosecutor handles about 403 criminal cases. He or she attends to three court hearings a day, in addition to preliminary investigations, retrials, witness deposition, mediation, among others,” Recto said.

“A public attorney, on the other hand, assists some 5,237 clients a year, and, at any given time, has 504 cases in court. All of them lack computers, paralegals, law books and comfortable offices. Most use their own computers and often use their own money to reproduce the briefs they have prepared,” Recto said.

There are 1,657 vacant prosecutorial posts, and the present number of 1,668 PAO lawyers is below the authorized ceiling. “There are no takers because of the low pay for the hard labor, and the only bonus one gets are ‘unli’ death threats,” Recto said.

The senator provided more statistics: only 373 of the 479 Municipal Circuit Trial Courts are functioning; of the 253 Municipal Trial Courts in cities, 201 were operational; of the 367 Municipal Trial Courts, 289 were occupied; and of the 1,229 Regional Trial Courts, 166 were vacant, and 204 have yet to be organized.

We need a grand program to focus on decongesting our jails. Our flawed judicial system is already socially unjust and oppressive.

Sen. Recto should go beyond passing a supplemental budget to augment the food allowance for the prisoners. The Senate must institute measures to make sure those who are too poor to post bail and get good lawyers are not forgotten to rot in our jails.

DOTr

A DOTr lawyer who also handles PR wrote to my editor complaining about a previous column that highlighted DOTr’s inability to utilize its funds. She pointed out that Sec. Art Tugade’s target is 80 percent expenditure of their budget even if they only did 18 percent with four months to go.

The DOTr lawyer claimed that “most of the projects have finished bidding and procurement processes and will start construction and implementation soon.” If that’s true, the obligation rate would be a lot more than 18 percent. Conclusion of bidding process means funds have been obligated or there would have been no basis for bidding.

The DOTr lawyer also claimed I did not do due diligence when I reported they had not started any big project this year. I only plead guilty to not believing their press releases and their many other public claims. For reference, that lawyer’s letter is published elsewhere in this issue.

I just want to comment on the list of projects the DOTr lawyer claimed they have started.

The Bicol Airport, the LRT-1 and LRT-2 projects were started during the last administration. They did nothing for those projects except continue the implementation.

The Manila to Clark Railway is more talk and PR than actually started. Perhaps they can indeed break ground on the Tutuban to Malolos segment whose right of way was cleared by the Arroyo administration. But the Malolos to Clark segment remains problematic. I don’t think they have started clearing the squatters in the area even if the right of way belongs to PNR.

As for the CNS/ATM, when I visited the project in October last year, I wrote in this column how impressed I was at its progress. Indeed, I was told that it would be completed first quarter of this year. Now they are saying before the end of the year. That means it was delayed by almost a year under their watch to add to the more than two years delay under Roxas-Abaya.

Maybe they are really working to provide night landing facilities for eight domestic airports. But what Sec. Art Tugade should talk about is what happens to the five domestic airports whose modernization and management he unbundled. That project was ready for bidding and their modernization would have been a going concern by now. Those airports would have received more than night landing facilities.

 As for the common station, congratulations they broke ground. It is about time our commuters got some relief.  It will still take two years, but at least it is moving.

 I really hope Tugade is successful in doing his projects. If I sound pessimistic, it is only to keep challenging him to deliver. I have no doubt Tugade has all the best intentions of delivering on his assignments. But knowing DOTr’s track record, a fire must always be lighted under their butts. Nauuna kasi yung PR sa gawa. Worse, they believe their own premature claims.